Book Review: The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

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4.5/5 Stars

Contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton’s long awaited second novel follows the relationship between Rabih and Kirsten. De Botton’s thesis is essentially this: While most love stories tell us everything we need to know about how love begins, there isn’t enough focus in our society on how it continues.

Combining Rabih and Kirsten’s fictional story with his own insights and commentary on their relationship, De Botton proposes that “enlightened romantic pessimism” is a healthier and more realistic alternative to Romanticism, the latter of which gives us unrealistic expectations of relationships and sets us up for inevitable failure.

There’s no “right person,” suggests De Botton, and in each and every longterm relationship we are doomed to encounter a variety of suffering and unfulfillment; therefore, committing to another person is akin to saying, “I’ve surveyed the different options for unhappiness, and it is to you I am choosing to bind myself.” Whether readers find this depressing or comforting will likely vary. (For me, it was the latter.)

Much like De Botton’s first novel, many of the insights he provides in The Course of Love are accurate to the point of discomfort. It’s not easy to identify with his propositions, yet there is universal truth to them, and there’s something distinctly comforting in that. It’s always special to read a book — particularly a work of fiction — and feel as if the writer is communicating truths about yourself that you’ve never been able to adequately acknowledge, let alone convey.

As a fan of both philosophy and fiction, I find great satisfaction in De Botton’s ability to translate profound ideas and insights into accessible and entertaining prose. The Course of Love is a captivating read, but seems as if it would be especially meaningful for individuals in the beginning phases of longterm commitment.